Why the boardroom is just like mission command

Opinion by Simon Smith

Whether top brass in the military, or CEO of a company, leaders have a lot in common.

Whether top brass in the military, or CEO of a company, leaders have a lot in common.


Agility and anticipation are key to succeeding in both, and the most successful in each are those who can cultivate ‘soft skills' and create a strong internal culture – the ‘esprit de corps' that binds everything an organisation does in pursuit of an outcome.

At MooD International we have been working with Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the Ministry of Defence's research and development organisation, in one very specific area – the application of cyber security scenarios and thinking within the context of real world (military) operations.

This enables military personnel on the ground and elsewhere to have a view on the predicted outcome and take the best available course of action when supplied with real time knowledge of a security threat.

It struck me that a lot of what we have been working on together, while designed for the military, is just as applicable to business. In many respects running a business in the face of cyber attack is just like running a military operation. The military are deeply interested in technology for use in combat environments, such as software to break down the divisions brought about by geography, technology and culture across complex military operations.


Giving the decision maker a rich view of alternative futures as they monitor conflicts can ensure resources are deployed that completely align with the evolving understanding of the best possible outcome. The same technology and approach can be taken and applied by business across a similarly diverse sphere of operations, with the boardroom adopting the approach of mission command.

Like the Ministry of Defence, global businesses can also no longer rely on strict command and control. They need to be able to make swift interventions to minimise potential future damage, and to maximise outcomes that can be achieved in return for operating at a certain level of risk.


The tools we have developed will allow businesses to analyse the threat across the entire company and to allow the right people to make informed and intelligent decisions that are non-commodity and repeatable, operating in much the same way as military mission command.

Three parallels in particular stand out: firstly, in a business environment, just like the military, there are many stakeholders and interests involved in plotting the right course of action. While the military were once able to see everyone they had under their command, they now have people on the ground in conflict areas, supported by other commander and technology that might be being operated many thousands of miles away on different continents. Businesses face similar challenges with the fragmentation across service suppliers and value chains and reliance on networks of capability enabled by technology.


Secondly, the world of cyber attack is dynamic, constantly evolving and full of new challenges. Attacks, which are designed to go undetected by avoiding repeated patterns of behaviour, are constantly under development. In cyber, the past is not necessarily the best guide for the future.


The same is true in businesses undergoing transformation and constantly seeking to improve in the face of a dynamic environment. Programmes of change under your control alter the way the business behaves, and things not under your control mean that what you anticipated happening sometimes does not happen. Shifting to an ‘always on operations' culture can help, by observing data as close to real time as possible.


However, hard data needs to be matched with judgement, exploration and context to give a view of what action to commit to ‘beyond now'; you need to anticipate how different courses of action may look in a week or month's time, moving your thinking beyond now, to when the situation will have evolved.


Third, outcomes need to be balanced with risk and there isn't necessarily one right answer. Risk and outcomes need to be constantly managed in an objective way, adapting as the situation evolves. How much risk is the mission or business willing to bear? Imagine for example, having to decide on whether to redirect resources to discover more about an emerging conflict, at the risk of leaving mines in the ground on a heavily used route?


Likewise, in business you need to continually assess your situation to decide on the most suitable action to achieve the best possible outcome; this is going to change on a regular basis. Your business never stands still, and you need to remain focused on actively managing the business environment, anticipating and looking forward with the best combination of judgement, hard data analysis and transparency for the many stakeholders that are involved. Then decide, commit, and track what actually happens against expectations.

Taking a mission command and ‘beyond now' approach to the boardroom will ensure your business remains both sustainable and dynamic, and can tackle unknown situations in a proactive way.


Companies need to close the gaps in communication and understanding across their customers, supplier community and all the other factors that come together to enable, or hinder the business. By exploiting this overarching view they will be able to stay ahead of the competition and win the war for market share.

Simon Smith is CTO of MooD International


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